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Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? Opinion Polls and Electoral Choice in m$ 
Britain, 1979-1987 B 

Ian McAllister; Donley T. Studlar 

The Journal of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 3. (Aug., 1991), pp. 720-741. 

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Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 
Opinion Polls and Electoral Choice in 



Since the widespread use of opinion polls in British general elections began in the 1950s, 
there has been continuing controversy concerning their impact on the vote. The bandwagon 
effect sees voters favoring a party that is doing well in the polls, while the underdog effect 
predicts that support will go to a party trailing in the polls. There is also the possibility of a 
projection effect, with voters' expectations conforming to their partisanship. The results pre- 
sented here, applying logistic regression to "exit poll" survey data collected during the 1979, 
1983, and 1987 British general election campaigns, find some evidence of a bandwagon effect 
in all three elections, but no evidence of an underdog effect and only minor evidence of a 
projection effect. However, there is a consistent interaction between poll influence and those 
who decided which way to vote during the election campaign, suggesting that opinion polls can 
facilitate tactical voting, especially in three-party competition. 



/Vs campaign polls in Britain have proliferated, there has been an ongoing 
controversy during the last 30 years over their electoral effects. Such has 
been their perceived influence on election outcomes that calls for legislation 
restricting the publishing of opinion polls during a campaign have been fre- 
quently voiced, a restriction which already exists in countries as diverse as 
France, South Korea, and Brazil (Worcester 1980; Kavanagh 1981; Whiteley 
1986; Norris 1987b). 

But do campaign polls really affect voting choice and the election out- 
come? The British evidence, like that from the United States, is conflicting. 
The main debate concerns whether polls induce a bandwagon or an under- 

The 1979, 1983, and 1987 Gallup Exit polls were conducted for the BBC, directed by Ivor 
Crewe, and made available by the ESRC Data Archive at the University of Essex. Neither the 
original collectors of the data nor the disseminating agency bear any responsibility for the analy- 
ses and interpretations presented herein. An earlier version of the paper was presented to the 
Empirical Social Research Conference, University of Queensland, August 1988. Our thanks to 
participants at the conference and to Bob Darcy for helpful comments; the usual disclaimer 
applies. 

Journal of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 3, August 1991 
© 1991 by the University of Texas Press 




Ian McAllister 
University of New South Wales 
Donley T. Studlar 
Oklahoma State University 




Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



721 



dog effect. Briefly, the bandwagon effect has been the label applied to situa- 
tions where information about majority opinion, widely dispersed in the 
community, causes some people to alter their opinion to accord with the 
majority view (Marsh 1984). This change could be a result of a conscious 
decision on the part of individuals to conform to what they perceive as the 
political norm; or it could be a subconscious decision, caused by the prevail- 
ing attitudes and values of the wider social context. By contrast, the under- 
dog effect suggests that the same information will cause some people to 
adopt a minority opinion; this change is more likely to be a conscious one, 
and to reflect sympathy for the minority view (Gartner 1976; Straffin 1977). 
Alternatively, there is the possibility of a projection effect, that is, indivi- 
duals project their intended vote onto their election outcome expectations 
(Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet 1948; Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 
1954; Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970). 

This paper clarifies some of the dimensions of this continuing controversy 
in the context of the British general elections of 1979, 1983, and 1987, using 
polls conducted on, or just prior to, polling day. Specifically, we ask two 
questions: (1) how has exposure to opinion polls changed between 1979 and 
1987?; and (2) for those who vote, do polls produce bandwagon, underdog, 
or projection effects? In short, we are asking: under what conditions and on 
whom do polls have an effect during elections? 

I. Previous Research 

Both aggregate and individual-level data have been used in investigations 
of the impact of published campaign polls. Aggregate research has failed to 
demonstrate a consistent effect of polls on turnout or party choice. In both 
Britain and the United States there has been a fall in overall turnout over 
the last quarter century at the very time when published campaign polls 
were proliferating, prima facie evidence against published polls positively 
affecting turnout. 

There has been a great deal of investigation, using both aggregate and 
survey data, into the effects of election day predictions of presidential win- 
ners on the behavior of potential voters in the western United States, where 
polls are still open as the first exit poll and state results from the eastern 
portions of the country are being broadcast. The first few instances of this 
phenomenon generated an almost-unanimous academic consensus that 
knowing the projected or complete results in the other parts of the country 
did not effect western levels of turnout, the behavior of undecided voters, 
or the choices of previously decided voters (Fuchs 1965, 1966; Lang and 
Lang 1968; Mendelsohn 1966; Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970; Tuchman and 
Coffin 1971; Wolfinger and Linquiti 1981). More recently, however, this con- 
clusion has been disputed, in light of the 1980 election when NBC News 



722 



Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar 



declared Ronald Reagan to be the winner of the presidential race on the 
basis of exit polls several hours before the voting booths closed in the west, 
followed by President Jimmy Carters concession of defeat before the polls 
closed as well. Although the issue remains controversial, most of the studies 
on the 1980 election find media reports of results and/or Carters concession 
depressing turnout in the west, to the possible detriment of Democratic 
candidates lower on the ticket, but not apparently producing a bandwagon 
for the victorious presidential candidate (Epstein and Strom 1981, 1984; Du- 
bois 1983; Jackson 1983; Ranney 1983; Delli Carpini 1984; "Early Calls ..." 
1985; Sudman 1986). 

Most of the large-scale research on bandwagon-underdog effects has been 
based on comparing public opinion poll results during campaigns with ballot 
box results. If the polls underestimate the winning margin, it is claimed that 
a bandwagon effect has taken place; if they overpredict the winning margin, 
then supposedly an underdog effect has occurred. This approach has domi- 
nated bandwagon-underdog research in British elections, where consistent 
polling overestimation of the winning margin over five general elections, 
1959-October 1974, led to claims of an underdog effect (Economist 1974, 
1978a, 1979; Worcester 1980, 1983; Kavanagh 1981; Marsh 1984). Subse- 
quently, however, the 1979 and 1987 general elections did not show such an 
underestimation. There have been similarly inconsistent results in aggregate 
analyses of bandwagon-underdog effects in U.S. elections (Gallup and Rae 
1940; Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970; Monroe 1975; Asher 1988). 

One of the major problems bedevilling research on the influence of public 
opinion polls has been disentangling their effects from the myriad of other 
variables possibly influencing the outcomes of elections. Under these cir- 
cumstances, it is hardly surprising that the most convincing demonstrations 
of bandwagon-underdog effects in the U.S. have been ones based on theo- 
retical modeling (Simon 1954; Baumol 1957) or small-scale experimental de- 
signs (Fleitas 1971; de Bock 1976; Navazio 1977; Ceci and Kahn 1982). The 
first, however, lacks empirical data, the second, generalizability. Until re- 
cently, larger-scale surveys have never persuasively demonstrated that per- 
sistent bandwagon-underdog effects exist (Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970; 
Roshwalb and Resnicoff 1971) although there is stronger evidence for projec- 
tion effects (Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970). 

The long and eventful campaigns in the United States make it difficult to 
demonstrate convincingly that polls influence electoral behavior. Studies of 
the impact of bandwagon and momentum effects in presidential nomination 
campaigns (Beniger 1976; Straffin 1977; Patterson 1980; Aldrich 1980; Ad- 
ams 1984; Bartels 1988) focus more on how media coverage and primary 
voting results affect the poll standing, strategies, and delegate-gathering of 
candidates rather than on the independent effect of polls per se. The most 



Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



723 



relevant of these studies for our purposes, Beniger (1976), argues that, in 
the long run, candidate standing in countrywide opinion polls is a good guide 
to eventual nomination success, but that there are no bandwagon effects 
from poll to poll. 

Two panel studies of voters in the 1980 presidential campaign indicate the 
presence of bandwagon effects. Controlling for projection effects, Skalaban 
(1988) finds that there was a small bandwagon effect for Reagan, especially 
among voters with the weakest prior opinions. Using Noelle-Neumanns 
(1984) concept of the spiral of silence, voters move in the direction of per- 
ceived leaders in races for social acceptance reasons rather than tactical con- 
siderations. Glynn and McLeod (1984) find that voters in 1980 had both an 
accurate view of trends in the positions of the candidates and a small ten- 
dency to shift their votes in the direction of the candidate leading toward the 
end of the race. 

A promising approach to investigating bandwagon, projection, and under- 
dog effects is to ask survey respondents if they have heard the results of 
opinion polls, what the poll result was, and whether their votes have been 
influenced by this knowledge. One can therefore ascertain whether: (1) re- 
spondents have a correct view of what opinion polls have been saying (a 
crucial information question); and (2) to what extent respondents think opin- 
ion poll results have an impact on voting behavior. In recent years such 
questions have been posed in "exit" opinion surveys in Britain. 

The rise of a competitive "third force" in Britain (the Liberals in the 1970s, 
subsequently the Liberal-Social Democratic Alliance, and now the Liberal 
Democrats) has fueled interest in the effects of campaign polls. Third-force 
strategy has been to try to generate a bandwagon effect for themselves 
through by-election victories, favorable publicity, good poll results, and the 
encouragement of tactical voting (Rose 1985; Crewe 1986). If it, rather than 
Labour, would be seen as the principal challenger to the Conservatives, then 
an electoral breakthrough might occur. 

Although tactical voting fundamentally depends on the relative standing 
of the three major parties in particular constituencies, the polls could play a 
role. Theoretically, opinion poll results might be expected to have more 
effect in three-party, winner-take-all elections than in two-party competition 
in winner- take-all elections or in proportional representation systems. Win- 
ner-take-all elections provide no compensatory seats for losing parties as PR 
systems do. Two-party competition in a winner-take-all system, however, 
should encourage potential voters to think their party could win, at least in 
that particular constituency. On the other hand, three-party competition 
gives every voter, in effect, two alternative choices to his/her least preferred 
party. 

Negative partisanship has been shown to be an increasingly important 



724 



Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar 



phenomenon in recent British elections (Crewe 1980). If one is anti-Conser- 
vative, then a strong and persistent Conservative lead in the opinion polls 
might encourage voting for the party, either Labour or Alliance, best situ- 
ated to defeat the Conservatives in that particular constituency. On the 
other hand, being anti-Labour and recognizing a strong Conservative poll 
lead could generate further support for the Conservatives. In other words, 
in a three-party situation, one would have the potential for both bandwagon 
and underdog effects. There is some aggregate evidence that such tactical 
voting has occurred in Britain (Spafford 1972; Cain 1978). Furthermore, with 
its recent persistent three-party competition, Britain provides an especially 
good test for these hypotheses, in contrast to two-party competition in the 
United States. Interestingly enough, the U.S. election in which there is 
greatest evidence of polls affecting election results, that of 1980, did have a 
significant third-party candidacy, that of John Anderson. 

The most intensively studied campaign polls in Britain, those of the 1983 
election, have produced conflicting results. While all of the three published 
analyses (Rose 1985; Crewe 1986; Whiteley 1986) of the 1983 BBC-Gallup 
exit poll results agree that the Alliance benefited from a small underdog 
effect, they agree on little else. Rose and Crewe indicate the findings are 
tentative; Whiteley argues that there is "compelling evidence" of a signifi- 
cant opinion poll effect. Furthermore, Whiteley finds that the Conservatives 
were less harmed by the Alliance bandwagon than was Labour, another view 
at odds with the other two. Rose and Whiteley find 5% claiming to be 
influenced by the polls, Crewe only 3%. The number of respondents on 
which Whiteley bases his strongly-worded conclusions is more than one- 
third larger (124 as against 90) than Crewe's. Other data (Rose 1985; Worces- 
ter 1980) indicate that voters see polls mainly as a harmless diversion, a large 
proportion have difficulty in remembering the specifics of poll results, and 
few are directly influenced by them. 

A close comparative analysis of the 1979, 1983, and 1987 British general 
elections should provide a good test of the bandwagon, underdog, and pro- 
jection hypotheses. The 1979 campaign opened with a substantial Conser- 
vative poll lead (approximately 10%) which shrank as the campaign pro- 
gressed. Opinion polls in the 1983 election campaign consistently showed 
the Conservatives with an overwhelming (10% to 20%) lead. The 1987 con- 
test was closer, with the Conservatives maintaining opinion poll leads of 
generally small dimensions (8% to 11%) and many observers crediting La- 
bour with "winning" the campaign, if not the election. Skalaban (1988) sug- 
gests that polls should have more effect on voters when elections are close, 
but not so close as for the cues from polls to be ambiguous. Similarly, Cain 
(1978) argues that tactical voting should be most evident when a race is ex- 
tremely close. By this reasoning, any observable polls effect should be 



Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



725 



greater in 1979 and 1987 than in 1983. But perhaps neither 1979 nor 1987 
was close enough. 

II. Polls and Election Outcomes 

As opinion polls have become more numerous during British election 
campaigns, public exposure to them has also increased. During the 1979 
general election campaign, 68% of voters reported having heard of the re- 
sults of an opinion poll. In 1983, this proportion remained stable at 67% but 
increased to 74% in 1987. Do the majority of voters who have heard an 
opinion poll result consider that it has influenced their own political behav- 
ior? The evidence from the three surveys shows that the proportion of res- 
pondents claiming such an effect has doubled over the course of the three 
elections. In 1979 and 1983, 4% said that they had been influenced by a poll, 
rising to 9% in 1987. Table 1 shows that, in terms of the party breakdown, 
the Liberals (in 1979) and the Alliance (in 1983 and 1987) have had a consis- 
tent advantage among those who reported being influenced by the polls. 
Indeed, in 1983, the Alliance won support from more than half of this group. 
Labour also gained votes from this group in 1979 and 1987, but not in 1983, 
while Conservative voters were more numerous among those not reporting 
being influenced by the polls. 

Among those who report having heard the results of an opinion poll, the 
majority are able to correctly identify the leading party and to evaluate the 
size of its lead (table 2). In the 1979 election, just more than half of Conser- 
vative and Labour voters and just under half of Liberal voters correctly iden- 
tified the Conservatives as leading the polls, the vast majority of them con- 
sidering the lead to be "small" rather than "large." However, a significant 
minority — in the case of Liberal voters, 48% — thought that Labour had a 
"small" lead. In fact, only one of the 28 nationwide polls conducted during 
the course of the campaign produced a Labour lead, and among the nine 
polls conducted in the last week of campaigning, the average Conservative 
lead was 5 percentage points (Rose 1981). 

There' was less ambiguity during the 1983 and 1987 election campaigns. 
In both elections, all but a handful of voters accurately identified a Conser- 
vative lead, of varying proportions: in 1983, around nine out of 10 voters 
thought that the Conservatives had a "large" lead. In the more closely fought 
1987 election, there are clearly partisan differences, with Conservative vot- 
ers being more likely to see their party's lead as "large," and Labour voters 
more likely to see the Conservative lead as "small." 

These results would tend to give prima facie evidence for the existence of 
a bandwagon effect: the greater the perceptions that the Conservatives had 
a large lead, then the greater the likelihood of voting for that party. How- 



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Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar 



ever, it could be argued that a decision to vote for a particular political party 
also affects how a voter sees their party's position in the polls: having opted 
for the party, the voter may thereafter wish their choice to be vindicated by 
the polls and interpret them accordingly, a projection effect (Mendelsohn 
and Crespi 1970). Thus, the results in table 2 may simply reflect the fact that 
Conservative voters are projecting their political choice onto the opinion 
polls. 

From this perspective, the only data which could address this implied 
question of causality are panel data, which interview the same respondents 
at two or more points in time (see Skalaban 1988). However, there are few 
panel surveys available for British elections, and none which deal with the 
issue of opinion poll influence. Even if they were available, panel data would 
present other problems. Repeated interviewing of the same respondents 
biases results in favor of greater interest in the election (Worcester 1980; 
Yalch 1976; Kraut and McConahay 1973; Clausen 1968). An alternative so- 
lution is to estimate the reciprocal paths between the variables of interest, 
using a simultaneous equation model; using this model, we can measure the 
reciprocal paths between party and poll lead, and between party and self- 
reported influence by polls. However, with some exceptions, data on politi- 
cal behavior are rarely sufficiently robust to permit reliable simultaneous 
equation estimates (Asher 1983; Berry 1984). 1 

An alternative methodology is to overcome at least some of these difficul- 
ties by utilizing interaction terms in the multivariate equations. While this 
approach still uses cross-sectional data, it has significant advantages over a 
noninteraction model. First, if a projection effect were taking place, by 
which voters projected their partisan preferences onto the size of the opinion 
poll lead, then an interaction term should measure this effect. Secondly, 
following Skalaban (1988), we might also expect that those who left their 
decision on how to vote until late in the campaign would be more influenced 
by opinion polls — a "campaign polls" effect. Once again, an interaction term 
should be able to measure this effect if it is present. In the multivariate 
analyses in tables 3 to 5, dummy variable interaction terms are used to test 
these hypotheses. 

III. Testing the Multivariate Model 

The multivariate models estimated in tables 3 and 4 are designed to mea- 
sure the bandwagon and underdog hypotheses, and therefore include voters' 
perceptions of which party they thought was leading in the polls (as shown 
in tables 1 and 2). Since the distribution of perceived poll leads varied be- 
tween 1979, when sizeable proportions of the electorate chose one of three 

Analyses using this technique largely replicated the results shown here. However, because 
the first-stage equations were not particularly powerful, we have not included these results here. 



Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



729 



options, and 1983 and 1987, when almost all voters thought the Conserva- 
tives were ahead and differed only about the magnitude of the lead, the 
models are shown in two separate tables. Both models include variables to 
measure campaign effects, judged by whether or not voters reported being 
influenced by the polls in making their voting decision, and whether their 
decision was reached early or late in the election campaign. Since we would 
expect that the complex range of factors that affect vote would be closely 
linked to partisanship, this is also controlled for in all of the multivariate 
models. 2 

Testing for the possibility of a projection effect in the polls presents par- 
ticular measurement problems. The projection effect hypothesizes that vot- 
ers will alter their perceptions of the party leading in the polls to conform to 
their own partisan preferences. As we have already noted, this question can 
only be measured definitively by panel data. However, one way to partially 
test the hypothesis is to cross-classify strength of partisanship with the size 
of the poll lead. If, as the projection hypothesis predicts, voters alter their 
perception of the poll lead to conform to their partisanship, we might expect 
that strong partisans would be more likely to see their party leading in the 
polls, compared to their counterparts with weaker partisan leanings, other 
things — including the direction of partisanship — being equal. This possibil- 
ity is tested in table 5 in the 1983 and 1987 elections; unfortunately, a ques- 
tion measuring strength of partisanship was not included in the 1979 survey 
and it has therefore been excluded from this analysis. 

In all of the models, the dependent variable is dichotomous and for that 
reason logistic regression techniques are used, which show logit coefficients, 
together with their respective standard errors. 3 To facilitate interpretation of 
the results, however, we also include the estimated percentage probabilities 
of the variable in question. These probabilities are analogous to partial OLS 
coefficients in a dummy variable regression, and they show the percentage 
probability of voting for a party given the particular attribute in question. 
They are estimated by evaluating the logistic regression at the grand mean; 
full details of all the methods and the variables used in the analyses are given 
in the appendix. 

The results in table 3 and table 4 show that in each of the three elections, 
voters who thought that the Conservatives had a large rather than a small 

2 In preliminary analyses, several social structural control variables (mainly age, gender, oc- 
cupation, home ownership, and trade union membership) were included in order to partial out 
potentially confounding effects. However, since they had little impact on the size or statistical 
significance of the independent variables of interest in the analyses, they were eventually ex- 
cluded on the grounds of parsimony. 

3 The decision on which category to exclude among the dummy variables was generally based 
on size, with the category which was least numerous within the population being chosen for 
exclusion. 



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Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



731 



lead (or, in the case of 1979, a Conservative lead as opposed to a Labour lead 
or a neck-in-neck contest) were significantly more likely to vote for the party 
and significantly less likely to vote Labour, net of other things. For example, 
in 1979 the estimated probabilities suggest that voters were 18% more likely 
to vote for the Conservatives and 14% less likely to vote Labour, net of other 
things, including the direction of partisanship. This is evidence of a band- 
wagon effect. 

In contrast to the evidence for a bandwagon effect between the Conser- 
vative and Labour parties, there is no clear pattern among Alliance voters in 
1983 and 1987 or among Liberal voters in 1979. In none of the three elec- 
tions are the coefficients statistically significant and the estimated probabili- 
ties are either zero (as in 1983) or trivial. There is, therefore, little sign of an 
underdog effect in these three elections. Overall, the evidence points to- 
ward the existence of a bandwagon effect. 

There is also substantial evidence in tables 3 and 4 for the existence of a 
"campaign polls" effect. In the 1983 and 1987 elections, those who made up 
their minds on how they would vote late in the campaign, and who reported 
being influenced by the polls, were significantly less likely to vote either 
Conservative or Labour. Although the proportion of voters in this category 
is relatively small, the estimated probabilities show large effects, particularly 
in 1983. For example, in that election, those who were influenced by the 
polls but decided on their vote before the campaign began were 24% more 
likely to vote Conservative than those who reported being influenced by the 
polls but who decided on their vote while the campaign was in full swing. 
This suggests that they made a rational decision on how to vote, based on 
the poll results. By contrast, in the 1979 election, when the outcome was 
more evenly balanced and the Conservatives were in opposition, the pattern 
is reversed. 

However, the real beneficiary of the "campaign polls" effect would appear 
to be the Liberals and their successors, the Alliance. In each election, those 
who delayed their decision on how to vote until the campaign was in prog- 
ress were significantly more likely to vote for the Liberals or the Alliance, 
net of other things. Once we separate these late deciders into those who 
reported being influenced by the polls and those who did not, the results 
indicate that the former were significantly more likely to vote Liberal or 
Alliance. It is, however, important to place this "campaign polls" effect in 
perspective. First, as we have already mentioned, the proportion influenced 
by the polls is small; even in 1987, this amounted to less than 10% of the 
respondents, so that the potential pool of voters open to this type of persua- 
sion is negligible compared to the electorate as a whole. Second, there is 
considerable controversy (Crewe 1982, 1986; Rose 1985; Whiteley 1986) 
over whether the small number of voters citing this are to be considered an 
accurate figure or merely the tip of a larger iceberg. As Norris (1987a) notes, 



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736 



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much campaign activity, including opinion polls, may be reinforcing voter 
behavior rather than changing it. 

To what extent was there a projection effect in any of the three elections, 
with voters altering their views of the party leading in the polls to match 
their own partisan preferences and casting their vote accordingly? Using the 
interaction between strength of partisanship and perceived poll lead sug- 
gests that there were projection effects which benefited the Conservatives 
in both elections analyzed in table 5. In 1983, strong partisans who thought 
there was a large Conservative poll lead were 12% more likely to vote Con- 
servative, compared to strong partisans who considered that the Conserva- 
tive poll lead was small. However, in both elections the effects are relatively 
minor and neither reach statistical significance at the 1% level. 4 While there 
is evidence of projection effects, their impact on the vote is negligible. 

IV. Conclusion 

Over the last decade, there has been much academic commentary on par- 
tisan dealignment and electoral volatility in Britain (Sarlvik and Crewe 1983; 
Crewe 1985; Norris 1987b). With the loosening of the bonds between parties 
and the electorate, more people are potentially available for influence by 
campaign effects, such as opinion polls, than ever before. Our results indi- 
cate that part of that potential is being realized. There is a consistent pattern 
of apparent bandwagon effects for the leading party through voters' percep- 
tions of the size of the party lead. 

But the picture is also a complex one and in at least some instances, there 
are also small projection effects. In other words, it is possible that many 
voters who displayed a bandwagon effect may well have voted for the party 
anyway, since they were projecting their partisanship onto the size of the 
Conservatives' poll lead. 5 However, our results show no evidence for an 
underdog effect in any of the three elections analysed here. Our results 
therefore conflict with those of Whiteley (1986) in that we do not find "com- 
pelling evidence" of a significant underdog effect in 1983. While our results 
are also at odds with Rose s (1985) and Crewe s (1986) bivariate findings of a 
small underdog effect in 1983, we agree with their caution in attributing 
large voter shifts to opinion polls. 

Our findings, moreover, do not provide strong evidence for the "spiral of 
silence" interpretation of public opinion and voting, whereby people tend to 
conform to what they see as dominant political opinion in their reference 
group (Noelle-Neumann 1977, 1984; Glynn and McLeod 1984), especially if 
it conforms with a perceived trend (Marsh 1984). Faced with persistent poll 

4 In 1983 the f-value was 1.648, in 1987 it was 0.748. 

5 For the reasons mentioned in footnote 3, we were not able to integrate the two sets of 
variables into one explanatory model and test this hypothesis directly. 



Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



737 



results that demonstrate a lead in popularity for one party, some of the elec- 
torate tends to shift in that direction. But unlike Noelle-Neumann (1984), 
we did not find this to be a large phenomenon. Perhaps the relative dynam- 
ics of this depends on reference groups more immediate to the voter (Field 
1983; Noelle-Neumann 1977), but in Britain polls themselves are an increas- 
ingly important reference group in a more fragmented society. Other studies 
addressing the spiral of silence hypothesis with countrywide opinion poll 
data (Webb and Wybrow 1986; Darcy and Laver 1990) have also cast doubt 
on its validity. 

The effects of polls on the two trailing parties (Labour and Liberals /Alli- 
ance) provide some interesting contrasts. Alliance supporters are much more 
attentive to poll results; the problematical nature of Alliance support leads 
them to search for information on how the parties stand. For example, in 
1983, 72% of Alliance voters reported having heard the results of an opinion 
poll, compared to 57% of Labour voters and 67% of Conservatives. Only in 
1983 did poll results appear to generate Alliance support, based on self- 
reported influence by the polls. Since Alliance (and, in 1979, Liberal voters) 
were more likely to make up their minds late in the campaign, the opinion 
polls would appear to interact with the actual timing of the decision. In other 
words, opinion polls provide an important reference for third-party voters 
who are defecting from the two major parties. 

In comparison to Alliance voters, Labour supporters are less attentive to 
opinion polls, but even they are increasingly using polls as a reference. For 
members of these two groups who are exposed to polls, the impact on their 
final voting choice has differed over the course of the three elections. As- 
sessing polls as showing a large Conservative lead has tended to depress the 
Labour vote in the 1980s but has had little impact on the Alliance. This 
suggests that third-party support has been firmer in the elections of the 
1980s than previously, as others (Crewe 1987) have shown. 

On the other hand, Labour support has become less firm in the 1980s; 
exposure to opinion polls negative for Labour may have contributed to the 
decline of the Labour vote. We are unable to assess systematically what 
effects second-place assessments have on relative support for Labour and the 
Alliance. Lacking this information, as well as data on relating the general 
"exit" poll findings to particular constituencies, we cannot fully evaluate the 
tactical voting argument. But we can say that, before the fracture of the 
Alliance in 1988, Labour and Alliance supporters were converging in their 
relationship to opinion polls. 

Election outcomes are decided by many things. Polls are just one, but 
they are not unimportant. Our analysis shows polls influence voter behavior 
through a bandwagon effect although in some circumstances there may also 
be a small projection effect. Although our evidence does not predate 1979, 
saturation polling does seem to have had significant political effects on the 



738 



Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar 



public, but not always in predictable ways. In a closer electoral contest than 
those examined here, we might expect even greater attentiveness to opinion 
polls and possibly larger effects. But if there is not a significant third-party 
challenge to Labour and the Conservatives in the next British general elec- 
tion, there may be less opportunity for tactical voting; polling effects may be 
reduced, ceteris paribus. 

None of this analysis should be construed as an argument for restricting 
published polls during campaigns. As has often been pointed out, such res- 
trictions would not extend to "private polls" done for the parties (Gallup and 
Rae 1940; Worcester 1980; Kavanagh 1981). In general, the behavior of pol- 
iticians may be more influenced by polls than the behavior of the electorate 
(Mendelsohn and Crespi 1970). For one thing, the very date of the general 
election is usually chosen by the prime minister on the basis of private and 
published polls, as well as other factors (Worcester 1983; Rose 1985). What 
the elitist argument about banning or restricting the publication of opinion 
polls during campaigns amounts to, then, is distrust of the voters. The voters 
could reply that public opinion polls are too important to be left to the 
politicians. 

Manuscript submitted 25 August 1989 

Final manuscript received 17 September 1990 

Technical Appendix 

Data. The data are the 1979, 1983, and 1987 Gallup Exit polls, conducted 
for the BBC (N = 2,434, 4, 146, and 4,886, respectively). All three were quota 
surveys representative of all eligible voters aged 18 or older in England, 
Scotland, and Wales. 6 All the surveys were conducted on either polling day 
or the day immediately prior to polling day and as such, are the closest polls 
available to the actual election result. 7 The 1987 survey was less accurate in 
predicting the result of the election: while the 1979 and 1983 surveys pre- 
dicted the results for the major parties within 1%, the 1987 survey was in 
error by 3%. For that reason, the 1987 survey has been additionally 
weighted to the actual election result.* In the logistic regression equations 
reported in table 3 to table 5, the analyses are restricted to respondents who 

6 The surveys are called "exit polls" because of their proximity to the general election, not 
because they are conducted outside polling stations. They therefore poll intending non voters 
as well as intending voters. All responses are based on face-to-face interviews. 

7 To exmaine the possible effects of the campaign, the analyses were replicated for those 
interviewed on polling day (always a Thursday) and those interviewed on the Wednesday prior 
to polling day. The results showed no substantive difference between the groups, and for that 
reason the analyses are presented for the sample as a whole. 

8 All the surveys are weighted, with the weighted N being adjusted back to the true N to 
leave significance tests unaffected. 



Bandwagon, Underdog, or Projection? 



739 



had seen an opinion poll and reported voting. In the 1983 and 1987 analyses, 
a small number of respondents who reported anything other than a small or 
large Conservative lead are excluded, and in table 5 those who did not an- 
swer the strength of partisanship question are also excluded. 

Method. The analysis relies on logistic regression techniques since the 
dependent variables are all dichotomous (Hanushek and Jackson 1977). The 
independent variables figuring in the logistic regression analyses are all 
dummy variables, scored zero or one. To facilitate interpretation of the lo- 
gistic results, estimated probabilities are shown for the independent vari- 
ables. These are calculated by evaluating the logistic coefficient at the grand 
mean; this, in effect, makes a linear estimate of the logistic coefficient. As 
such, these estimated probabilities should be used only as a general guide 
to interpreting the analyses, not as a definitive result. 



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Ian McAllister is a professor of politics, the University of New South 
Wales, Canberra, ACT, Australia 2600. 

Donley T. Studlar is a professor of political science, Oklahoma State 
University, Stillwater, OK 74078-0608.